Allied Health Professionals Day: My Journey as an OT and Co-Design Facilitator

Gemma Wormald

14th October 2020

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A blog for AHP Day from Gemma Wormald, Occupational Therapist and Co-Design Facilitator on her journey so far........


After 16 years of working as an Occupational Therapist in my dream speciality, older people with Dementia, I made a move I never thought I would and took a non-clinical role. It was a big decision to move from a speciality I’d known I’d wanted to work in before I even qualified and an even bigger move to leave a team I loved. Most of the team had been with me when I was on rotation, when I got the permanent B5 job, when I then got the B6, when I met my husband (on the ward!) and supported me through the birth of my boys, even providing emergency childcare on the odd occasion!!


So what made me move??


In 2015, I was approached by a fantastic OT, Alicia Ridout, who I had known at the start of my career - she mentored me when I applied for my B6 role and we worked on various projects together, including introducing a digital activity monitoring system into Older People’s Services for Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust. All these years later she had a new job at mHabitat who were a small team in my own Trust working on co-design, digital inclusion and innovation projects - who knew?! mHabitat wanted to create Leeds' first digitally enabled older people's wards and memory service to support improved experience and outcomes. The project was amazing and again brought “digital” into my clinical life.


We kept in touch and a few years later said OT asked if I wanted to help facilitate some workshops mHabitat were doing.


    “It's like a group”, she said.


    “You’ll be great”, she said. 


So off I went and entered the world of co-design…


I had never hear of co-design before - the idea that people were having actual input (not just lip service) into something created to support their health and well being was almost mind blowing to someone who had worked in the NHS for 20 years. The concept was very “OT” and really resonated with me - meaningful interventions co-designed by the people who were going to use them.


When mHabitat advertised a job as a Co-Design Facilitator I  Ummed and Ahhhed for a long time about not just a change in career but not being a clinician. Then I remembered how in awe of the process I was and how it aligned with all my OT principles and was indeed the OT process - I had seen a group of people saying what they need (Assessment), “digital” people really listen and create it (Plan) with the original people using it (Implementation) then everyone coming together to review and revise (Evaluation). So I went for it... and got it!


I started my new job at mHabitat in February 2020... 5 months of redeployment later, I started again. I’ve just finished my first project, an amazing piece of work with young people, the Samaritans and University of Nottingham with the aim of understanding and developing safe ways of communicating and accessing online content about self-harm and suicide - all done over Zoom and using a virtual whiteboard tool!!


On completing the workshops, theming up the data and writing the report - I realised I was still a “clinician” and it really didn’t matter what my job title said, I would be an OT forever!


I would really urge OTs out there to look and explore other, potentially non-clinical roles, where core OT skills can be used to create, inspire and bring real meaning to people.


Gemma Wormald